Former U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May joined former U.S. Defense Secretary and current McCain Institute John S. McCain Distinguished Fellow Mark Esper for the second installment of Conversations with Secretary Esper. This discussion between a former world leader and the former head of America’s armed forces touched on all things relating to the transatlantic alliance. These topics include President Joe Biden’s recent diplomatic trips to the U.K., Brussel and his meeting with Vladimir Putin, democratic backsliding in parts of Europe, deterring Russian aggression, confronting an aggressive China, and of course, the future of the U.K.-U.S. Special Relationship.
PRESIDENT BIDEN’S “AMERICA IS BACK” MESSAGE WAS HEARD LOUD AND CLEAR.
“Well I think it was an important trip, and as you described just now, actually he packed a lot into that trip. Not just with the U.K., the G7, but then obviously going onto the NATO Summit in Europe and then President Putin. I think the very clear message that came from it was that America is back. I think for those of us who are supporters of multilateral institutions of rules based international order, there was a very clear sense that this American president sees America playing a role in the world in terms of that rules based international order and those multilateral institutions. And that America wants, once again, to step up to that role of being the leader of the free world. So I think it was a hugely important visit in that sense and the message that it gave in America wanting that role and crucially wanting to work together.”
DEMONSTRATIONS OF WHY OUR VALUES MATTER WILL BE NEEDED TO PREVENT DEMOCRATIC BACKSLIDING AMONG ALLIES.
“I think that is difficult, and I think what is important is for the rest of us to actually be showing how significant those values are and to be working with any country that does show signs of moving away from what we would all see as those absolute values – not just democracy, but the rule of law, equality and freedoms. And be showing that the importance of them actually is because we are able to hang together with those values that we do pose that very significant organization in defense terms in security terms for the whole of Europe. And if you start to break that, then actually you lose the sense of real alliance that is able to come together and understand each other on these issues of defense and security.”
DESPITE THE TENSION, THE WEST MUST WORK WITH CHINA ON KEY ISSUES.
“There are key issues that we need China to be working with us on. So obviously the U.K. is hosting the Climate Change Conference towards the end of this year, and if we’re going to deal with climate change, China has to be part of that. China has to be sitting around the table and committing. Now they’ve made some commitments already, but you can’t leave them out of that picture. So we do need to be working with them on some really key issues of importance to us and to them.”
THE U.S. AND THE U.K. NEED TO GET SERIOUS ON DEVELOPING ALTERNATIVES TO CHINESE 5G COMPANIES.
“Well first of all, if I may on the issue of Huawei and 5G, we started off with a slightly different approach because of the structure of our system from the United States so the sanctions that President Trump imposed wasn’t possible for us to continue down that road, and we went to the position that we currently have. I think it’s a very good example of in a sense how the west took its eye off the ball, because we’re in the situation where basically Chinese providers are the key, there are two other companies in the west that do provide this kit, but its Chinese providers that have become dominant in this scene, and I think there is a need for the U.K. the U.S., and indeed probably for the Five Eyes – U.K., U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to work together potentially with others in Europe, as well, on how we could ensure that markets develop in our countries that provide these resources.”
THE FUTURE OF U.S.-U.K. RELATIONSHIP IS STRONG AND THE TWO NATIONS WILL CONTINUE TO STAND TOGETHER TO DEFEND DEMOCRACY.
“Well first of all I think it is obviously our most important security and defense relationship primarily, and I think that should continue to be the case. And it transcends changes in government it transcends different presidents different prime ministers. It’s about a relationship that when people often focus on the two leaders and say ‘what’s their relationship like,’ but it’s actually about more than that; it’s about the relationship that we have throughout our government systems with the United States and that important ability to work together on security and defense issues. It has been, I think, absolutely at the core of NATO, I think it is important that it continues to be. I think we would say as push comes to shove, the U.K. and the United States have stood shoulder-by-shoulder in defense of our values: our democracy, our freedoms, our rule of law. And that is so important, and we will continue to stand side-by-side. We bring different things to the party if you like, I think we work well together we understand each other and because we have that core basis of values we do work so well together.”